Steck Salathe 5.9

  • Currently 4.0/5

Sentinel Rock

Yosemite Valley, California USA

Trip Report
Steck-Salathé photo TR, captions in 10 words or less
Tuesday June 22, 2010 7:49pm
Credit: le_bruce

I’ve thought about doing this climb since the summer of 2006, but never felt ready. Every time I thought I was, I’d check back in with some old friends, and remember that I wasn’t. The friends I'm talking about are Yo’s, Zander’s, and ElCapInYoAzz’s Steck-Salathe TRs on this very site.

These TRs are not exaggerated in the pictures they paint of how the casual climber might feel on the Steck-Salathe. I used them as a barometer: upon completion of reading, do I feel scared sitting here at my desk in my home? Are my hands clammy? Am I once again laughing a little too desperately at Yo’s line about grease and blood in the flare? Until late May of this year, the answer was always yes. Then came a soft “no” after a good repeat run up the NEB of HCR. So here goes:

5:30, I’m nervous leaving the car:

The falls are the valley’s loudest pre-dawn sound:

Video of sounds:

Approach for us was 2 hours:

The East Butt is a classic line:

Unless you’re a badass, don’t start here:

Ok, here we go! 7:30am:

There are eight spots in this photo where I’ve bivied:

9:30am, Scott reaching the belay before the Wilson:

Zander told me that the belay above the Wilson Overhang…

…was the place to bail or commit. We committed.

11:45, top of p5, bad ropedrag:

5.8+ OW, do not underestimate this bit:

Because, like Steck-Salathe in general, it’s hard:

1:57pm, North Dome spied from the tunnel through:

Scott, badass, about to tackle the pitch after the rap:

It was the hardest pitch on the route for me:

Same pitch, ST p9:

This was a great lead by Scott:

He requested it, to avoid the face pitch. Mistake.

The face pitch is cake comparably:

Scott contemplating the friction move to the hole:

Reaching the belay after the face, before the flare:

5pm, It’s getting late, smell of forced bivy in the air:

A lot has been written about this pitch.

Scott gave ‘er 100 minutes of hell:

IMO, its reputation is well deserved, especially for the leader:

7:01pm, at the Narrows ledge belay, darkest inner Sentinel behind Scott:

The Narrows start is more exposed than shown in pics:

Scott resting/psyching for his fourth big lead, The Narrows:

He’d already led the Wilson…

…the pitch after the rap, and the scary flare. Huge day.

Coming alive:

Who’s to say what lurks within the Sentinel?

Looking down from the Narrows belay ledge:

The exposure is bigger than I’d imagined:

Chalking up for the Narrows entry moves:

7:54pm, Established. Scott ate this pitch up.

Instead of climbing by headlamp, we bivied at so-so ledges above the Narrows. Bivying is kind of cool, if the wx doesn’t turn to hell.

Basking on top of the Sentinel the next morning. Looking west:

Looking north:

Looking east:

Scott on Sentinel’s weathered summit, with the moon:

This is where the photos end.

I’m going to open up the beta nozzle a little bit because other TR’s were really helpful to me and Scott in preparing mentally for this climb, and I want to kick into that stream of info. Purists turn back here.

Beta did not at all prepare me for the how hard this climb is, but I expected that. To the dedicated internet TR reader and Camp 4 story listener, the Steck-Salathe’s reputation is so legendary that it’s hard to underestimate it. But – for the average climbing Joe like me – the climb is such a beast that it’s hard to not underestimate it. There’s your conundrum.

My perceptions of the climb are probably heavily influenced by a scary fall with gear failure that I had at Sugarloaf this winter. “Scary fall with gear failure” sounds like “Still life with woodpecker.” I talk about that experience a little bit in this thread: So there’s the grain of salt you should take with any beta I’m giving. Here goes:

Approach: one piece of info that I didn’t have is that you want to exit the first ramp before it peters out into the steep wall. Keep an eye out right for an exposed path heading west. This is a short vid of that path, and gives a sense of its exposure:

These are ST’s pitches ->

P1+2: link and go fine. Belay at tree.
P3: One of maybe three easy’ish pitches on the day. Relish it.
P4: Lots already said on The Wilson. Full value for me – I pulled on a sling.
P5: I skipped the infamous squeeze by tension-traversing to the flake. I couldn’t unlock the ramp moves free. I also felt pretty gripped at the top of the flake without good gear below me, though others have had no problem finding gear in this flake. I set myself up for bad rope drag here.
P6: Looking at the topo, and at the features above us from the belay, we thought we had another easy pitch – not so, but not brutal.
P7: Another of the few easy pitches.
P8: Tunnel through and rap. Only challenge here is not to slow down to rest.
P9: Hardest pitch on the day for me, and I seconded it. Scott bartered to get this pitch, thinking he’d rather be plugged into a crack than sketched on open face. Oops! This pitch is easily twice as hard as the face pitch, even with the apples to oranges caveat. It reminded me of a much harder P1 Gripper. Maybe P1 Gripper x 1.5
P10: Lots of pro available, doesn’t have to be run except in a few spots. Falls could be worse for the second than the leader.
P11: Scott spent about 100 minutes on lead, in a proud display of piss, guts, vinegar, and muscle. He was mostly deep into the flare, where he could place pro and feel a bit more secure. The price to pay is that the climbing is much more physical inside. I pulled on a sling to get past the squeeze early on, and stayed to the outside for the rest of the pitch, and reached the belay in about 15 minutes.
P12: The Narrows was the only pitch that we may have overestimated. One warning – and Scott could describe this better than I could – is that your best bet after you exit the Narrows proper is to stay in the fat crack. Don’t be suckered into the featured face out climber’s left. This is a video showing the view from the belay where the Narrows begins. The vid also features the classic line "Overall general energy is beginning to feel better" as the camera pans slowly to reveal Nutjob in full fetal position after completing the flare:

P13: In exchange for Scott leading the Narrows (he’s a better climber than me), I’d signed up for leading the rest of the pitches to the top. But after a cold bivy, Scott wanted to get his system moving and opted to lead this one. He felt it was heady and serious at parts. Definite do not fall territory in places.
P14: The third easy’ish pitch on the climb.
P15: Some bad rock, precariously perched, both while climbing and at the mossy belay. Many options off the ledge mid-pitch, I took the far right and it was easy. Save a fist-sized piece for any of them.

Here’s how I’d rank the pitches that have some sort of aura about them from other TR’s, hardest at the top. Remember I pulled on a sling on the Wilson and in the pitch before the Narrows:

1. Pitch after rap
2. Flared chimney before Narrows
3. Wilson
4. Pitch after Wilson
5. Narrows
6. Face pitch

People ask about Steck-Salathe vs NEB of HCR. All of the pitches listed above, to me, were harder than anything the NEB had to offer.

I’d like to hear what others found to be the hardest pitch. Many people say it’s the cumulative effect of so much burl, and I think that’s right. But still, if you can remember which was the hardest moment of the day, I’d like to hear about it.

Edit to fix pics! And to say: we didn't carry approach shoes. Next time I will. YMMV.

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Comment on this Trip Report

Sport climber
Almost to Hollywood, Baby!
  Jun 22, 2010 - 08:08pm PT
Thanks Bryce! I guess your face-o-philia and my wide-o-philia makes us a good team.

8 places I've bivied... love it!

I remember the bliss of fetal position on the ledge in the narrows like it was 5 minutes ago....

My pitch ranking from hardest to easier:
1. before Narrows
2. Wilson Overhang
3. squeeze or traverse to flake (your lead, I tensioned on traverse)
4. pitch after the raps (more serious run-out & hard than techie hard)
5. chimney after narrows pitch (to the 3-bolted station on the chockstone)
6. Narrows
7. The pure 5.8 OW that was wider than fist, sometimes get in a knee, no face holds to help

I decided I need to practice more wide chimney to get more comfortable with run-outs on this stuff. I led Reed's Direct (10a OW) last weekend, and thought it was pretty similar to stuff on Steck Salathe. The scary run-out wide chimney in the middle of the pitch as well as the well-protected techie crux up top. Transitioning from back/knee chimney to back/feet chimney and stemming, when way above gear, is still creepy for me.

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Jun 23, 2010 - 01:56am PT
The best Trip Report of the year in my opinion. Real and intense without too much wordy prose. Halfway through your report I vowed never to do that climb. Great photos. Thanks for a break from color.

Best line of the week...."8 spots where I've bivied." A testament to a git er dun attitude and a fond pile of memories on the rope.

Excellent Adventure fellas.

Saint Louis, MO
  Jun 23, 2010 - 03:59am PT
Proud job, and a hell of a fine TR.


Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Jun 23, 2010 - 06:08am PT
Great trip report, and fine job on a true classic testpiece.

Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer

Trad climber
  Jun 23, 2010 - 11:31am PT
Awesome trip report! Amazing photos as well. Thanks for sharing.

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Jun 23, 2010 - 02:20pm PT
Great TR, the reason I come here.

35 years of climbing and I STILL haven't done that rig.

Better whip my sorry ass into shape a little.....
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Jun 23, 2010 - 03:10pm PT
Great photo TR - thanks for sharing!

  Jun 24, 2010 - 10:19am PT
Great, great TR. I love the black and white photos! Great job on the route.

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Jun 24, 2010 - 06:02pm PT
hell of a good job of doing The Wyde With Pride!!

Trad climber
Santa Clara, CA
  Jun 24, 2010 - 06:08pm PT
Very cool stuff. The black/white pics are cool too.

Nice job!

Trad climber
  Jun 25, 2010 - 12:21am PT
em kn0t

Trad climber
isle of wyde
  Jun 25, 2010 - 02:38am PT

Social climber
An Oil Field
  Jun 25, 2010 - 11:05am PT
Great photos! Brings it all back a zillion years since I did the thing.

Good job. This is one of the true old time Yo classics. Tons of history, and mungy enough to feel just like an alpine climb.

I do wonder if a caver like Pete would be willing to explore the depths of the chimney.

Trad climber
Lake Tahoe
  Jun 28, 2010 - 12:01am PT
That was the coolest TR I've read here all year. I'm sure to check it out a couple more times, too, ha, the TR that is. Congrats, you guy, way to climb, way to adventure sport!

Trad climber
Ventura, CA
  Jun 30, 2010 - 02:50am PT
Great TR. Went to try this route early in May but couldn't find correct approach and decided to bail after a couple hours of scrambling around super exposed, loose, sketchy rock. Still want to give this route a go. Good job!

Gym climber
sawatch choss
  Jun 30, 2010 - 09:51am PT
You were right there;-)

Gym climber
  May 13, 2011 - 07:26pm PT
Missed this first time 'round. NICE!
scuffy b

heading slowly NNW
  May 13, 2011 - 08:00pm PT
I think I missed this as well. Very good.
I'd bet that Scott's experience in Zander's simulator was worthwhile.

Social climber
San Luis Obispo, Ca.
  May 13, 2011 - 08:17pm PT
This TR got me all pumped (sweaty palms, lil short of breath, some of that good old "sewing machine leg") and I'm jus sitting in a lazy boy!
Thank you for the trek!

Evil too!

black hills, south dakota
  May 15, 2011 - 01:08pm PT
Awesome, love the B&W photos!
The Guy

Trad climber
Portland, OR
  May 15, 2011 - 02:03pm PT
Nice! Always look forward to le-bruce trip reports. My daughter was looking at the pictures with me and i showed her the 2 Narrows pictures. She said"WOW the climbers there then only feet."
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  May 15, 2011 - 02:11pm PT
Awesome job bruce, love the black and white!

Social climber
chica de chico, I don't claim to be a daisy.
  May 15, 2011 - 02:14pm PT
First time seeing this.

WOW, Beautiful Black and White pictures.... I love this trip report.
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
On the road.
  May 15, 2011 - 02:33pm PT
Beautiful photos. I love that view looking west.

Trad climber
Hustle City
  May 15, 2011 - 02:48pm PT
Sick TR!

Random Nobody
  May 15, 2011 - 02:53pm PT
First time seeing this as well..

Love the Narrows rest-up video..

"The part that concerns me the most about this Narrow's thing is the, getting my back on that side and my feet on there, if I can start walking up and that feels ok I think I'll be fine"

Strangely enough, I go through one of these dilemmas just about every morning.

Great TR!

Gym climber
  May 15, 2011 - 03:06pm PT
Wonderful B&W's, many thx....

Boulder climber
Andy Cairns
  May 15, 2011 - 04:53pm PT
An unusually direct and real TR that someone like me can unreservedly identify with. Room for musing, too. Great job!

Social climber
Joshua Tree
  May 15, 2011 - 06:17pm PT
Must have missed this the first time around. Cool pics.

I'm surprised Scott had "chimney after narrows pitch (to the 3-bolted station on the chockstone)" on the harder pitches list. I thought this was one of the easiest pitches on the route...not much gear, but wide enough chimney that you could motor without a lot of effort, no squeezing or grunting

Social climber
Truckee, CA
  May 15, 2011 - 08:33pm PT
I missed this first pass, too. Great TR!!!

Sport climber
Almost to Hollywood, Baby!
  May 16, 2011 - 03:26pm PT
With my memory, I get to enjoy it all over again like it's the first time! I was fairly wasted (even after a night of "rest"), which accounted for my hardness rating for pitch after Narrows. I thought we should be on cruise control and ready for easy 5th class to the top, and the little squeezes followed by run-out back to feet chimney had me on full alert. People in good shape won't rate this one too hard.

I've since brushed up a bit on back-to-feet chimneys (e.g. P3 Reed's Direct, and that unprotectable thing to the left of Pony Express at Sugarloaf). But I don't think I'll ever do it enough to stop being scared.
Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
  May 16, 2011 - 03:41pm PT
This is one of my new all-time favorite trip reports. Congratulations on getting it done!

Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
  May 16, 2011 - 04:04pm PT
ECYA wrote:
I'm surprised Scott had "chimney after narrows pitch (to the 3-bolted station on the chockstone)" on the harder pitches list. I thought this was one of the easiest pitches on the route...not much gear, but wide enough chimney that you could motor without a lot of effort, no squeezing or grunting

It might well be a size thing...

This is what I wrote about that pitch in 1995:

I was cold by this time, and shivering as I started up the next pitch. The initial move was balancy and steep. I decided to stay with climbing in the dark, as opposed to trying to use the small mag light that we were all carrying. The moon was nearly full, but was shining on the other side of the valley from somewhere behind the Sentinel. A small bit of reflected glow helped a little as my eyes adjusted to the lack of light. I climbed the pitch, wondering how we get ourselves in such crazy situations, but at the same time very happy to be near the top of such a wonderful one-day accomplishment. My joy only lasted a little while.

I climbed through some easier broken ground and then squinted upwards to see the rope disappearing into a dark maw above. Another chimney?! Sh*t! Once in the chimney, my prospects were even more grim. My two partners, much smaller than I, had both climbed up the Chockstone Chimney, BEHIND the chockstone. That left me with no other option than to climb the same tight section, which appeared way too small in the dark from below. I squeezed up into the hole trying to just get through the section. I cursed and moaned my fate, and wished I was skinnier to no avail. In the end, I nearly gave up, but the desire to get off was too strong. I was able to do some sideways body jamming and slithering to get myself past the section. The only sound in between the spates of profanity, were the occasional grunts and the grating sound of my locking harness carabiners against the rock as I wrenched upwards in the dark. Finally, I cranked free of the last bottle-neck move and breathed deep, glad to be out of the clutches of Sentinel. The belay came soon after and I collapsed onto the chockstone, totally spent and sweating bullets from a gun that had long since emptied.

Oakland, CA
Author's Reply  May 16, 2011 - 04:22pm PT
Cool to see this bumped up - thanks for all the nice comments.

There's a proud tradition of writing Steck-Salathe TR's on this site, I was psyched to kick in. Who will throw one up this season?

Somebody get out there, send, and then write the next chapter!

San Jose, CA
  May 16, 2011 - 09:59pm PT
le_bruce, great report, I missed last june as many others - [june is bad time for reading ST] -thanks for bump.
The rout looks amazing with those black and white photos .
It was interesting to read description of the pitches and rank of them in turn of hardness.
Probably everybody have put them in different order, here is mine best and hardest 6 pitches in order:
1. 5.9 flare above Wilson (if you climb it direct, no 5.8 bypass)
2. Pitch before Narrows
3. Wilson
4. Slab
5. Narrows
6. Pitch below slab, 5.9ow

East Bay, CA
  May 16, 2011 - 09:08pm PT
This is a great TR even tho it stirs up doubt in my desire to ever try what look like beautiful pitches! I also missed it the first time around, and the link to a thread questioning trust in gear - topical with a number of posts lately about gear pulling. TFPU!

Also enjoying the black and white photos fitting for the classic!

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
  May 17, 2011 - 01:56am PT
Intimidated as all hell but newly inspired to try it. Thanks for sharing! Awesome photos.

Trad climber
Northern California
  May 20, 2011 - 02:14pm PT
Bump for the great photos! Really shows the wide mid-pitches just above the rap.
J. Werlin

Social climber
Cedaredge, CO
  May 20, 2011 - 02:14pm PT
Glad this one was bumped -- 5 star TR. The B & W photos really added a classic Ansel Adams feel to the report. Many thanks, good send!
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
  Aug 26, 2011 - 05:23pm PT
Black and white bump for full Steck - Salathe colonic !

Trad climber
LA LA Land
  Aug 26, 2011 - 06:19pm PT
Absolutely stellar! This is what it's all about!
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Mar 15, 2012 - 01:06am PT
Right on le_bruce I really appreciate you taking the time to write this. You put up a lot of good climbing related stuff. Thanks

Oakland, CA
Author's Reply  Jul 11, 2012 - 12:41pm PT
Just wanted to jump in here with a quick epilogue: went back and did the SS again one year later, and had a completely different experience of the route.

Never had that low-level hum of doom in the back of my head the second time up, as I did pretty much straight through the first run. And that alone made a big difference for me. What a contrast between climbing a route like this on-site vs climbing it when you know exactly what's coming on each pitch.

The second time through, I also had a different opinion of what was hardest:

1. Still thought the pitch after the rap was the crux pitch
2. Flare pre-Narrows

And that's it. Everything else felt pretty solid this time. One of those days where you feel you could hang a dump truck off your harness and be fine, b/c each jam, lock, bar, wing, or heel-toe just feels that good. Time on route was much lower, too - yeah we climbed a little faster, but the biggest difference was not having that fear gnawing on us, thus no hemming and hawing at belays, over pro-ing, etc. I think we were on top by about 4p.
David Wilson

  Jul 11, 2012 - 02:12pm PT
Bryce, that;s the first pitch we did, one of the "5.8 that is 5.9" pitches. I guess next time over to the right more is the way to go. Nice TR !

Oakland, CA
Author's Reply  Jul 11, 2012 - 04:09pm PT
Yeah David, no less than four ST'ers have emailed me about that p1 photo, asking about the start we did. In fact, one of those emailers ended up being my partner for the second run (CA Dreamin', great dude).

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
  Jul 11, 2012 - 09:46pm PT
Great report...brings back memories; the SS is one of my favorite climbs ever anywhere, but it is now forty-two years since the second of my two ascents. Some photographic jogging of failing synapses is most welcome, especially your excellent black and white shots, which have, for me, the built-in quality of distant recollections.

Back when we did it, nuts were just starting to happen, cams didn't exist yet, at least not for the general public, sticky rubber had yet to appear, ropes were tied to swami belts, and painter's pants were the uniform de jour.

The route went up a short A3 section of the headwall rather than rapping and free-climbing the chimney from lower down, and the Wilson Overhang was in its original 5.8 state.

I think maybe at the time Roper had downgraded the entire route to 5.8, but Pratt took us aside and, in a fatherly way, explained that we would probably find some 5.9 up there.

Which we did.

The A3 part, if that's what it was---we had no idea how to grade aid---consisted of hanging hero loops on a series of small flexible flakes (no way you'd drive a piton behind any of them) and trying not to apply any outward loads to them.

Trad climber
minneapolis, mn
  Jul 11, 2012 - 11:24pm PT
hadn't seen this until now, very nice TR, very distinctive

Trad climber
  Jul 12, 2012 - 11:37pm PT
I did this in 98.

I only fell once on that route, on the 5.6 pitch above the narrows. The burl got to me. I took a ten footer and then got all pridefull and finished the pitch. I remember sitting on a ledge at the end of the pitch unable to work the gear to build a belay.

We finished the climb.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Jul 13, 2012 - 12:08am PT
Loved the B&W's!

Oakland, CA
Author's Reply  Aug 14, 2013 - 08:47pm PT
Another postscript, did the SS again this season, a third time, and came up with a different take on which pitches were hardest.

1. Yo's Flare
2. Pitch after rap
3. First pitch (dark horse, took me by surprise this time)

Still a big day, still the real deal, but finally this time it never felt harder than enjoyable 5.9/5.10-, and never mean. Even the flare felt reasonable.

The onsite day of the SS is the best day of the SS, for a million reasons, but at the same time it has just gotten better with each go. Hope to get it again this season, and have put it on the "year-in, year-out" list with the NEB, Serenity/Sons...

Crux move on the face pitch, most insecure move of the climb:

We come for the views


Social climber
Joshua Tree
  Aug 9, 2013 - 06:02pm PT
Nice postscript. I kinda wanna go do it again. Maybe in another 5 or 10 years, the dancecard is pretty full and free time pretty short these days.

Such a classic. Any aspiring valley climber should have this on their list.

Trad climber
New England
  Aug 9, 2013 - 11:03pm PT
Next you have to solo the thing :)

Trad climber
  Aug 13, 2013 - 09:13pm PT
A few comments:
 Rack: BD C4 - doubles to #2, single #3, double #4, single #5; BD C3 single; small nuts. Two #4s are useful on several pitches (mainly 5.8+ OW pitch, the pitch after the rap, the Narrows). #5 protects the flare chimney below the Narrows before clipping the 1st bolt and also the final OW on the Narrows pitch (#4 would probably work too).
 Approach: Can be confusing in dark. When traversing after the 1st ramp, go to the big tree to the right and stay more or less horizontal till you get to the 2nd ramp. There is a faint trail on the grassy face, hidden by manzanita at places. If you get to a big tree with rap sling, you got to high.
 Narrows exit: The 5.7 rating is a joke – the moves are pretty technical and committing, far away from the last pro inside of the chimney. There is a fixed clip (pin?) and some gear higher on the wall. The final moves in the OW flare can be protected with #5. The final section of the Narrows felt more like 5.10.
 Total time: Did SS twice (9hrs and 11hrs) – the 1st half of the climb (start of the pitch after rap) took us about 1/3 of the total time. The second half goes slower without noticing (harder, fatigue factor?).
 Climbed in July with the Valley temp ~100F; yet climbing was pleasant in shade most of the day.

Great route – want to keep it as a birthday present for myself.
CA Dreamin'

San Jose
  Aug 14, 2013 - 12:33am PT
le_bruce, you stud! You're tugging at the heart strings and bringing back many fond memories of our time up there. Way to get after it Amigo! Keep up the good work.

Trad climber
Truckee, CA
  Aug 14, 2013 - 12:40am PT
le_bruce, if you're going to keep doing this great, great route over and over again, one of these times you just have to go outside at the Narrows. Very exposed and exciting, reasonable climbing (5.9, maybe 10a to clear the overhang). Excellent TR.

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
  Aug 14, 2013 - 12:52am PT
I don't know how I missed this the first time, but your photos were amazing, and the sparse prose was so strong. I especially loved the feel of your "pre-dawn" images of the view, the gag about the # of bivis from in the pic, and the shots of both the narrows exposure & Scott's feet poking through as he disappears above. Really nice share! Thank you.

Big Wall climber
santa cruz, ca
  Aug 14, 2013 - 07:51pm PT
This is rad! (Sent from inside my tent while waiting out a storm haha)
Ian Jewell

  Aug 14, 2013 - 08:24pm PT
i concur , many of those B & W photos are FANTASTIC.

SS is one of my favorite routes all time , views from high up on sentinel are great and you captured them wonderfully

best view of upper & lower falls hands down , up high on sentinel

Trad climber
Washington DC
  Aug 14, 2013 - 08:34pm PT
Thanks for the TR. I really enjoyed the BW pics.

Oakland, CA
Author's Reply  Aug 14, 2013 - 09:28pm PT
Thanks, all. Appreciate those nice comments.

CA Dreamin' - In Chamonix right now? Let me know any time you want to do the SS again bud. I think that Alexey just did his 6th ascent of it this season, or 7th? Never seems to get old, even to people with that kind of pedigree on Valley wide.

mongrel - I don't know, dude, that bit outside of the narrows looks pretty wild. I traversed over this time and peered down. The look on my face slowly shifted from a smile to a grimace just thinking about leading it...

Side note: on this third ascent, the partner who came with me didn't have much experience on wider/chimney stuff, in fact had completely flamed out on the Sacherer Cracker finish earlier this season and hadn't touched anything wide'ish since. But he killed it on this day. Classic case of strength and burl more than making up for technique. By the time we hit the last pitch he pretty much had it all down to a science...

Social climber
  Aug 14, 2013 - 11:13pm PT
Love the black and white photos. Oh to be young again... The Wilson overhang looks as bad as ever - glad it wasn't my lead BITD. Great trip report.

Social climber
Truckee, CA
  Dec 17, 2013 - 10:40am PT
"Low-level hum of doom" bump.

Oakland, CA
Author's Reply  Jul 29, 2016 - 10:13am PT
Route keeps getting better. Not sure what happened to those links for pics from 2013, here are a few from that trip:

Exposed section of the approach, no falls:



After the rap

Face pitch crux sequence

We come for the views

Went again in 2014, two teams of two, FUN

Down the outside of the Narrows, old bolts

Scott and I shivered a night away at this belay…

Post-Narrows. "No more chimneys, right?"

Bada bing bada boom

Killer belay great view

This tree, special vibe and energy to it. Hold my hand to it every time I go by. Note relatively few brown trees in background

Sentinel summit is a good spot

Deteriorated throne feature hidden on the slope south of Sentinel

Good hair day for team Oakland Dads, 2014

Day is done

Missed it in 2015, but back for another this past weekend. Once again nobody else on route. Thank you kindly gods of Yosemite.

Link 1 & 2

Hadn't been to the Valley in some time and was surprised and bummed by all the dying evergreens. Pick any cuadrant on the Valley floor, a significant % of it is going brown


F's 2nd time on the route, the obsession is contagious. Solid partner, solid dude.

Clean granite

Finally figured out how to make this pitch feel 5.9. Also unlocked how to pro it right. Only took five trips.

Face interlude

Mwwa-a-a-a the "holdless proless .10b flare smeared with Crisco and the thin blood of sport climbers."

Traffic. This was Sunday. Had cleared up by evening when we left.

View down the outside of the Narrows. Those pines were mostly green in '14.

Sequence to the belay above the Narrows, not a gimme.

Again with the tree. This is a tree of great power, one of my favorites in all of the Valley. Hope the beetles never find it.

Dusk and psyching up for the Sentinel descent. Pitch-perfect coda to the overall vibe of the Steck-Salathe day. Part pain, part righteous adventure.

This time I thought these were the toughest parts:

1. Flare
2. Descent – seemed to have doubled in length since I last did it

Time on route this year: ~12h (2 hrs slower than last time!)
C2C: 16h, dragged feet on the descent
Oakland to Oakland: 33 hrs, tough work day Monday
Fuel: 1L water, 3 bars, 1 egg mcmuffin never again why why why
Gear: doubles to #3BD, 1 x #4, 1 x #5, 12 slings, few small nuts
Notes: next time maybe leave behind one #3 and the #5. Next time I finally tackle the 5.9 squeeze instead of the barndoor traverse above the Wilson
Flip Flop

Earth Planet, Universe
  Jul 29, 2016 - 08:07am PT
This climb has to be a game changer for most climbers who have done it. A Valley Rite of Passage.

Trad climber
  Jul 29, 2016 - 01:16pm PT
Nice chronicle of the ascents over the years. Keep on going... I believe Allen Steck followed the route at 68 years old.

Oakland, CA
Author's Reply  Aug 1, 2018 - 02:13pm PT
Didn't make it in 2017, but got back this year with Alice. First time I've encountered other parties on route, and there were 5 of them! Truth is it didn't matter in the least, the climb is just that spectacular. It's more than the climb, it's the whole day, every aspect, that keeps bringing me back. It is a complete experience.

Early-but-not-that-early start, left the bivy @ 5'ish

Dead pines watch, summer 2018: grim.

Had a worry in my heart every time I thought about my favorite tree up on top of the Sentinel - beetles wouldn't find it up there would they?

Some waiting behind other parties, everybody was nice as hell and excited to be alive

Team Michigan on the pitch after the rap. Does your doc climb wide? This future MD does with ease

After the rap - "half way there" hahahaha suuuuuure it is

Water makes us all cheerful

This pitch: so very hard the first few times, now it's a gentle old friend

Still the most insecure move on the climb for me. I always think about Hersey here.

Every Yosemite climber has a Before-Self and an After-Self: the person you are before you climb the Flare, and the person you are after you climb it.

Climbed many new pitches since the first time I went up the Narrows, have found rivals or even equals, but still haven't found any pitch that is more classic in every sense of the word

Want to know what small + unremarkable section of this route is PDH? This one right here which comes above the Narrows:

Once out of the Narrows I knew I'd have a better view up to the tree. Hard to tell, but not looking good

Two belays higher, worse still

A wondrous and beautiful tree that has meant a lot to me over the near decade now that I've been passing by its ledge. Fifty feet below the summit, towering at the edge, trunk bent almost in a spiral, limbs wind-cropped and varied and patchy with moss. Its longest branch points southeast, a bony finger pointing the way you'll turn to start your descent. Its roots are massive, push the granite around themselves like water. It's bark always feels warm to the touch. It leans over the last few pitches of climbing, silent witness gazing on your tired ass making it up yet another chimney. Gaining its ledge and standing level with its base means you've come to the end of the hard climbing - it grants you passage to the summit. This magnificent tree, the sentinel on the Sentinel. How many years up there, in the quiet, how many storms. You can see it from nearly the entire Valley. It watches over all of us, that's my feeling.

I remember waking from a winter bivy years ago and this tree being the first form my eye landed on. I lay in my bag and watched a cold clear day break all around it, first rays catching its crown and causing strands of light to jump into the air from the wreath of snow at its base and along the 4th class ramp leading away from it. Bright glow along Sentinel's summit, and this tree encircled in it. Maybe it's still got some life within it! But if it doesn't, RIP Sentinel tree.

As for the rest of us, if we're lucky we've got a little more time to be alive and to run up our year-in-year-out favorites. Hope you all are making the most of it.

Post script:
We didn't know while on the climb, or even until we got home the next morning, but this was the day that Tim and Jason fell from the Freeblast. Still think of those two most days.

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Jul 23, 2018 - 06:16pm PT
Awesome report of your latest visit, and NOOOOO! for that tree!

Some great new pics to show different perspectives.

This time, did you climb up on the OW crack outside of the narrows, facing the valley? Or traverse around left to that crappy sandy slope where I was groveling for grass or roots to hold on to?
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Sentinel Rock - Steck Salathe 5.9 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click to Enlarge
The long and demanding Steck-Salathe.
Photo: Randy Spurrier
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